When things went sour for Aaron Tippin at his former record label, RCA, the hard-country singer came close to inviting the record business to “kiss this.” Now a song with the same name has him near the top of the country charts again.
From early 1991, when the South Carolina native and former aluminum mill worker went to No. 6 with his first single, the spine-instilling “You’ve Got to Stand for Something,” to 1995, when “That’s as Close as I’ll Get to Loving You” went to No. 1 for two weeks, Tippin was hot. Four albums from the period went gold, for shipments of 500,000 copies; Read Between the Lines, from 1992, went platinum, a million-seller.
Then, Tippin’s fortunes shifted, almost as if he had been voted off the island, country style. Throughout 1996 and 1997 he went without a major hit. He parted ways with RCA and considered hanging up his recording career altogether.
“I don’t think they meant me any harm,” Tippin says during a recent interview. “They didn’t want to cut the songs that I wrote, and they didn’t want much of my participation in my albums. I know they were just trying to get something played on radio and they were doing the best they could. I don’t hold any hard feelings against anybody.”
After leaving the label, Tippin did some regrouping. “I was back into my songwriting, doing what I do, trying to be a songwriter for a living. Even when you ain’t having songs on radio, you can do 50 or 100 shows a year. I thought, that’s just what I’ll do and let that be it.”
Then he got a call from Randy Goodman, top man at Disney-owned Lyric Street records. Goodman and a number of his staffers had been at RCA during Tippin’s good years with the label. “They started off by saying, ‘Would you be willing to co-produce or produce your records?’” Tippin recalls. “I was going, ‘What?’”
Tippin signed with Lyric Street and released What This Country Needs in 1998. “For You I Will,” a single from the album, went to No. 6 in January 1999. Now “Kiss This,” written by Tippin, his wife Thea and Philip Douglas, has surpassed that, rising as high as No. 3 on the Billboard country chart for Oct. 7. The song comes from People Like Us; the new album debuted at No. 5 on the country album chart. Tippin appears to be back and he’s not necessarily philosophical about his resurgence.
“Gee whiz, man,” he says in his inimitable, twang-heavy speaking voice, “I don’t know why we’re having a hit record. I’m just glad we are.”
As part of the celebration, Tippin is CMT’s Showcase Artist for the month of October. He chats with country.com at 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday (Oct. 3), and the debut episode of his CMT Showcase, featuring in-depth interviews and acoustic performances, airs at 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET, also on Tuesday. The weekly, 30-minute show also airs at 11:30 p.m. ET Fridays and at 12:30 p.m. ET Saturdays.
People Like Us finds Tippin mixing the rowdy, hard-country sentiments of “Big Boy Toys,” about “motors and lights/Knobs and switches and a four-wheel-drive,” with tender fare such as “The Best Love We Ever Made,” a song written by Aaron and Thea about their son, Teddy.
The whole album reflects a slightly more domesticated side of the country singer. “We’re back to what Aaron is,” he says, “and right now, it’s big family for Aaron. ‘I’d Be Afraid of Losing You,’ ‘Best Love We Ever Made,’ that is me. That’s what I’m thinking, that’s how I feel.”
“Twenty-Nine and Holding” is a straight-ahead country song about a single woman shouldering tremendous responsibility. “The Night Shift,” with its double entendre, is a lighthearted dance tune.
In addition to co-writing “Kiss This” and “The Best Love We Ever Made,” Thea sings the latter song with Aaron as a duet. “She’s worked as hard and as long as me in the music business,” he explains. “She’s been writing with me for five or six years and this is the first time she’s ever gotten a cut on my album or any album.
“It’s a Cinderella story,” he goes on to observe. “She’s basking in the glory of having her song on the radio and getting to hear it. She told me about the first time she heard it, and I’m reminiscing, going, ‘Hey, I remember how that feels.’ I’m getting a big kick out of watching her.”
The next single, “People Like Us,” written by David Lee Murphy and Kim Tribble, features “the old Aaron sound,” he says. “We are rednecks, we are hillbillies.”
At 42, Tippin is comfortable with who he is and where he is in his career. Thea is pregnant with the couple’s second child, another boy, to be named Thomas Aaron, due in December.
“I quit looking the gift horse in the mouth,” Tippin says. “At this point, I’ve learned to say, ‘We had another hit. Hallelujah. Congratulations, Aaron.’ I don’t think you need to look no further than that, because I ain’t so sure there’s much of a theory anymore. I can’t find a pattern.”